The Pressure, oh the Pressure!
I’ve been a writer for decades and have always felt good about it. My first published article was for the Israeli feminist journal, Noga in 1987. In the 1990s and 2000s I published articles and stories in a variety of journals, newspapers and anthologies. I authored a humorous lesbian-feminist column in Philadelphia and an advice column in Sacramento and loved it. None of this prepared me for what it’s like to publish a novel.
Last April my debut suspense novel, Along Came the Rain, was published by Sapphire Books. I was exhilarated. For a couple of months I rested on my laurels. And then the marketing and publicity pressure began. I was bombarded with advice:
“Real writers spend 50% of their time writing and 50% of their time marketing.”
“Hire a PR person.”
“You need to post on Facebook twice a day.”
“You must comment on everyone else’s Facebook pages as often as possible.”
“Start your own blog.”
“Hire someone to manage your social media.”
I wasn’t willing to hire a PR person or pay for advertising. I wanted the quality of my writing to speak for itself and to trust that satisfied readers would spread the word. But the endless articles I read and workshops I attended about social media, blogging, and marketing all told me I was wrong and that I needed to get with the program.
When my second novel, Devoted, came out, I tried to put some of what I’d learned into practice. I started a twitter account and planned a Facebook campaign of regular posts, but I kept forgetting to follow through. Days would go by when I never opened Facebook because I was focused on my writing (or my life.) Weeks passed and I realized I hadn’t tweeted. I knew I should. Every time I went on Facebook and saw how often folks were promoting their work, I castigated myself for not doing a better job. Whenever I was somewhere other than sitting in front of my laptop, I found myself thinking that I ought to be doing something, anything, to promote my novel. I joined more Facebook groups, confirmed more friends—and found I had even less time to keep up with the people and events I really cared about. I started getting bad headaches and migraines just thinking about it all but I forced myself to tweet and retweet.
And then I heard myself say, “I don’t want to be a writer anymore.”
I’ve always been someone who believes we should enjoy our work at least 70% of the time. When I write a novel, I relish the creative part where everything flows easily, and I slog through the 30% which is just bloody hard work. Putting added time into social media skews my 70-30 balance because I don’t enjoy marketing. Even though I love writing my novels I started to think that if publicity was as important as creating the product, maybe I’d just stop creating the product.
Then I read The Circle by Dave Eggers. The novel is brilliant and thought-provoking and I recommend it to everyone. At one point the protagonist, who works for a social media company, is reprimanded for not posting and participating frequently enough online. I felt for her. What she chose to do as a result of the pressure to conform isn’t what I’d choose, but it did make me realize that I have choices. I can choose to only post when and how I want to, even if it means I won’t sell as many books or be known by as many readers. I began to realize that the most important thing is to enjoy what I’m doing and hope that whoever does stumble across my work enjoys it too.
It’s not what the bloggers and experts would recommend, but I believe it’s what may work for me. It might mean I never become a bestseller. You may never see me post on Facebook, “I made the top ten on Amazon!” However, I will have more readers than I did for the first novel I wrote. That’s because my first novel was never published. It was accepted twenty years ago by Seal Press who then decided to focus solely on non-fiction and therefore returned the manuscript to my agent. Shortly thereafter my agent retired and, feeling that I had no other options, I stopped trying to publish that novel. I’m grateful that nowadays we have so many publishing choices, but it does mean that more writers are publishing and therefore the competition to find readers is fiercer than ever. This competition is what creates pressure to promote constantly. I could succumb to that pressure, but I’ve decided not to. I’m only going to do the amount of promotion that feels right for me.
In The Circle, the people who didn’t suck it up and revolve their lives around social media were doomed. I hope real life shows there’s room for my way of doing things. If there isn’t, and my ship is sunk, then all I can say is, at least I’ll go down happy.